Our War: The Flaming Lips Live At The BBC

Darren Lee celebrates the Flips' 30th birthday with an intimate concert at Maida Vale

There’s a fine line to be trod between messianic space rock trailblazer and clapped-out acid casualty, and Wayne Coyne has frequently straddled it in his time fronting psychedelic rock eccentrics The Flaming Lips. Nevertheless, if he hasn’t escaped from three decades in the music industry entirely unscathed (at present he’s nursing the residual effects of a bout of flu, meaning his vocals sound reedier than usual), he’s certainly in better nick than a fair few of his contemporaries, radiating a rakish elegance on stage in his turquoise leather jacket and floral neck garland.

For this evening’s live 6 Music session at Maida Vale, his band are taking us on an odyssey into the murky recesses of their back catalogue, all in the name of telling the “The Flaming Lips story” to mark their 30th anniversary. And what an exhilarating, mesmerising story it is. Many of the fans in the audience weren’t even born when the Oklahomans released their debut EP in 1984 – represented here by the full-throttle garage punk assault of ‘Bag Full Of Thoughts’. ‘Love Yer Brain’, from second album Oh My Gawd!!!, is an early prototype for the sort of cosmic meditation on the human condition with which The Flaming Lips were later to reap such acclaim (“so I guess I was right all along, reading Mad magazine,” the lyric ruefully concludes).

Between songs, Coyne shares wistful anecdotes against a backdrop of portentous synth riffs, creating a vibe somewhere between Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds soundtrack and Our Tune with Simon Bates. Prior to the visceral art rock blast of ‘Unconsciously Screamin’ for instance, he tells of an early gig where the band’s ambition to play an hour-long version of the track accompanied by the revving of a motorcycle engine was scuppered when the venue had to be evacuated because of the exhaust fumes, an early example of the quixotic spirit which was to become the Lips’ trademark.

The mood turns unexpectedly poignant with elegiac ballad ‘You Have to Be Joking’, which is prefaced by Coyne’s despairing reflections upon the tornado which has ravaged the Lips’ hometown of Oklahoma City. After this sobering interlude, ‘Moth In The Incubator’ showcases the band’s boundless sonic invention, Coyne spinning a fake flare above his head in a display of hypnotic abandon during its incendiary coda. A stripped-down version of absurdist nursery rhyme ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ ushers in a second half of the set comprised of more familiar material.

But when you have songs as unaffectedly joyous and evergreen as “Waiting For Superman’ or ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ in your canon, it would be churlish not to give them an airing. After a reliably spine-tingling ‘Do You Realize??’, we’re transported back to the present with the desolately beautiful title track from new album The Terror, with its Floydian flourishes, twitchy electronica and otherworldly dissonance. Many of the fans who were initially seduced by the accessible charms of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi… will doubtless have been put off by the band’s recent leftfield lurch, and it has undoubtedly proved controversial. But, placed in the context of tonight’s dazzlingly eclectic and career-spanning set, it feels less like a retreat into obscurity than a necessary process of renewal. You don’t get to make it to thirty years in this business by resting on your laurels after all.

For more clips and images of the gig, head over to 6 Music here.

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